Monday, August 01, 2005

Redemption song

“Forget about the trade, this is the place I want to be, man. They love me here. It’s Manny being Manny, man. This is the place to be. This is the best town in the world, man, and I’m back. I’m happy to be here.”

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"Just another day at the ballpark," the manager said through a sly smile when all was said and done, and of course it was anything but.

Just another day? Don't tease us, Tito. This was one of those special days that restores your faith as a fan, one of those days that stay with you for many innings and ballgames and seasons to come, a day with so much tension and drama that it simply must have been scripted or pre-ordained, a day that prompted a seen-it-all sage like Jerry Remy to say when the final plot twists had been revealed, "This is one of the top Fenway moments here."

"One of the greatest days at Fenway here." Maybe the Sox broadcaster's verbiage isn't perfect - you can take the second baseman out of Fall Rivah, but you can't take the Fall Rivah out of the second baseman - but as usual, his sentiment is spot-on.

One of top Fenway moments here. Right again, RemDawg. Just consider these headlines/highlights:

* The Red Sox rallied to sweep the always-pesky Twins: The victory was lost in the shuffle during all of the other craziness, but quietly, the Sox suddenly have won five in a row and maintain a 2.5 game lead over the Empire. (Aside to Jason Giambi: We're officially suspicious, Slugger.) It's a credit to the players that they have managed to put together this little streak during all of this week's hurricane of nonsense, and it's not too much to hope that it's a harbinger of better days ahead. The Sox went 21-7 last August. Suddenly, with Curt Schilling rounding into fireballing form, David Wells pitching like an October ace (7-1 in his last 13 starts), and a lineup as explosive as any in baseball, it's not out of the realm of possibility to do so again.

* The trade deadline came and went, and all the Red Sox whose names have been attached to rumors are staying put. Sure, it would have been nice if Theo could have picked up a useful arm or two for the bullpen, and you have to figure he will do so during the waiver period in August. But of all the prospective trades that were floating around - Bill Mueller for the Twins' J.C. Romero, Bronson Arroyo and kids for the Marlins' A.J. Burnett, Manny for Aubrey Huff and a giant sack of donuts - none of them would have made the team significantly better, and they damn well might have made them worse. No one north of the Bronx wanted to see the steady and clutch Mueller go. You know TATB's positive feelings about the Manny Experience, and the rest of the lineup's dependence upon him was again made evident by David Ortiz's four-walk night Saturday. And while Arroyo doesn't have the natural ability of Burnett, he's the same age, cheaper, has a similar track record, and "Saturn (Baseballs)," as Schilling calls him, has proven fearless and versatile in the postseason. I'm relieved Theo stood pat, and the Sox are fortunate to have a general manager who doesn't make change for change's sake, particularly in what looked more like a thieves' market than a seller's market. Besides, Theo has stealthily been bringing in capable reinforcements over the past month: Chad Bradford in the 'pen, Gabe Kapler and Jose Cruz Jr. in the outfield, Tony Graffanino and Alex Cora in the infield, not to mention . . .

* A touted, baby-faced pitcher who dazzled in his big-league debut, and he was followed to the mound by a touted, baby-faced pitcher who dazzled in his debut just days before. So do you believe in the TATB Scouting Department now? Do you trust us? Well, you should, punks. We've been on the Bring-Jon-Papelbon-To-Boston Bandwagon since watching (with wide-eyes and appropriate slobber) his final start at Portland, when he threw six no-hit innings and shredded any of our doubts about his readiness for the major-leagues, particularly in comparison to a couple on the Boston roster at that moment. (See: Halama, John; Embree, Alan). I don't know if the Sox plan on sending him back to Pawtucket after what was originally called a spot start, but I certainly hope not. He's a former college closer who would easily adapt to pitching out of the 'pen, and he might be a better starting alternative than Wade Miller at this point. And here's a little secret: He didn't have his best breaking stuff yesterday; it's far more consistent than he demonstrated. Papelbon can help, now, and he absolutely should stay. Oh, and maybe it's not the right time to ask since we're so obnoxiously gloating here, but, uh, think you could excuse our prevcomparisonarion of Manny Delcarmen to Frankie Rodriguez? No, not K-Rod - the other one. Yeah, the Sox/Twins/Mariners washout. Yeah, we said that, and we admit it, though I challenge you to find it on this particular site. (Love the delete and re-post key.) Delcarmen, who relieved Papelbon in the sixth inning yesterday, features a fastball with enough giddyup to overcome its lack of movement. And that curveball . . . wow. We're going to see some righty hitters ducking for cover the first time they face this kid. How fun is it to be excited about home-grown legitimate pitching talent for once? I think the last time the Sox had this many hot-shot pitching prospects on the horizon, John Tudor, Bobby Ojeda, and Bruce Hurst were a trio of gifted kids trying to prove Don Zimmer wrong.

* Manny. Even those of us who like and appreciate Manny to the point that sometimes we go over the top in our defense couldn't have envisioned yesterday's game - and the soap-operatic Week That Was - concluding as tidily and wonderfully as it did. Talk about your best-case scenarios: Manny interrupts Tito's pre-game meeting with the media to say he wants to stay (with an assist and some prodding from Millar, who earned his season's salary this week), Francona holds him out of the lineup as he said he would, and the rumor that has Manny heading to the Mets refuses to die. And then, with the trade deadline 54 minutes past and half of Fenway Park wondering if last year's World Series MVP and one of the most productive hitters of all-time was still a member of the Boston Red Sox, he emerged from the dugout in the eighth inning to the most raucous, ear-splitting, heartfelt cheers heard in the so-called Lyric Little Bandbox since that long-awaited banner was unveiled at the season opener. Pinch-hitting for Adam Stern with the go-ahead run on second base, he followed the script closely enough, bouncing a single up the middle and sending Edgar Renteria home with what would be the winning run, and rocking the old building to its rickety foundation. One of the top Fenway moments here. As Manny stood on first base, grinning, pointing at the crowd, waving his batting helmet in the air, and making you wonder if he was about to get picked off first base during his moment of glorious redemption, a quote from the great philosopher Pat "Chompers" Healey from the cinematic masterpiece "There's Something About Mary" popped into my head.

To paraphrase ever so slightly: "Damn, I love that goofy ba-----." It's reassuring and relentlessly satisfying to know that the 35,000 or so who had a say in the matter felt the same way.

So, in conclusion . . . phew. Manny's still here. The Sox are in first base. The kids are all right. And the Sox are off today, a well-timed respite that gives us and them time to catch their breath and digest all that has happened (and didn't happen) in recent days. Whaddaya think? I say Manny shows up at the ballpark today expecting to play.

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As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

From seven grueling seasons in the minors to five batting titles in Boston, through Margo and Delta Force and willing himself invisible and bad-idea hair-replacement systems, it's safe to say there's never been another quite like Wade Anthony Boggs. Congrats, Chicken Man. And thanks for not riding a police horse up to the podium.